Us and the US – Chapter 1


[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]



Our two nations, Australia and the U S, have a common parent.  America was commenced by colonists from England.  Australia was commenced by colonists from Great Britain – the nation of Great Britain had come about by the union of England and Scotland during the nearly two hundred years that separated the first sustained English settlements in America in 1606, and the British settlement of Australia in 1788.

Historians broadly agree that the English nation and language were founded by Germans (Anglo-Saxons) in the six hundred years or so before the Norman Conquest.  They left almost nothing of the remains of the Romans or the native inhabitants who were there before the Romans came.  The Anglo-Saxons brought the institution of hereditary kingship, a tradition of popular assembly, and a system of incidental laws (or dooms or decrees) to supplement or articulate existing customs.  They made no attempt to codify all their laws.

The Normans, a tough northern breed that had come down into France, brought a strong central government.  They opened the way for royal justice and a law that was common to all England.  This is what they and we would call the ‘common law’ (la loi commune).  The Normans also brought the jury, at first mainly as a tool of government, but later as a mode of trial that the English and Americans would come to regard as an essential plank in their constitution.  Although the Normans came after the Germans, and although their conquest was complete, they did not contribute as much to the growth of English law as the Germans. One great American scholar said that ‘the English law is more German than the law of Germany itself’.  Germany would later adopt Roman law – as had France and most of Europe.  England never did so.

So, the first point about our common parent is fundamental.  England’s laws and constitution – their constitution grew out of the common law – were entirely home grown.  Unlike most of Europe, the English never adopted the Roman model.  They were always determined to go their own way.  You can now better see the differences between England and the Continent to this day.  Had either nation been created by France, Germany, Spain or Italy, the result would have been unimaginably different.

The period called the Middle Ages was characterised by feudalism.  The Roman Empire had maintained order.  When it collapsed, Europe entered a dark phase of disorder and violence called the Dark Ages.  People looked to a strong man for protection.  He gave that in return for loyal service.  The vassal paid homage to his lord by taking the hand of the lord between his own and affirming that ‘I am your man’.  This feudal bond was tied to the land and it worked up to the king.  Lords held land from the king and common people held land from a lord and they owed obligations to that lord.  Medieval people loved hierarchies.

Now, most wealth came from the possession of land and ownership rested with a ruling caste.  The land was worked by peasants who were tied to the land.  The power of government cascaded down through intermediaries.  These feudal ties and differences in caste were very prominent in the French and Russian Revolutions.  Six hundred years before the Russians cremated feudalism in a nation–breaking conflagration, the English king in his parliament had made a law that represented a political compromise between the nobility that held the land and those who actually managed the land.  It was a law that cut clean across the whole idea of what we call ‘feudalism’.

Here is the second fundamental point about our common parent.  By the time that England became a colonising force and then an imperial power, feudalism had ceased to matter to it.  The English were very far advanced in the destruction of caste and the promotion of the ideal of legal equality.  Things were very different on the Continent.

Before England founded either of our two nations, it had undergone two cataclysms that we now see as being essential to its nature.  To resolve a civil war, the barons forced King John to agree to the terms of what is known as the Great Charter, or Magna Carta.  We see it as England’s first statute.  It is revered as much in the U S as it is in the U K.  What it showed was that the king had had to negotiate if he wanted to keep his crown and that he had had to agree to accept express limitations on his powers.  The king also had to accept his general obligation to obey the law.  The fact that the king had been driven to negotiate is at least as important as the two most famous clauses:  ‘No man shall be taken or imprisoned … except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.  To none will we sell, to none will we deny or delay right or justice.’  If the king, too, had to negotiate, then he too was a politician.  Most importantly, the people through the lawyers – the common lawyers – could now say that the king was under the law because the law made the king.  This is the real beginning of what we call the rule of law.  That is central to England’s view of itself and is the third elemental difference between it and other colonising powers.

The other cataclysm, the Reformation, was nominally about religion but was really about politics.  Henry VIII wanted an heir but because of a conflict of interest, the pope refused to give him a divorce.  The English revolted.  They gave themselves religious home rule.  They would run their own church free from interference from another power.  They did this through their parliament, so greatly enhancing its power.  This is the fourth huge difference between England and other colonial powers – just look at the role of religion in the French and Russian revolutions.  And the lawyers were into this ruckus up to their necks.  How many of the failings of governments in Spain, France, Italy and Greece were due to their failures to tame their church?

So, by the time that we get to the two English revolutions of the 17th century, the English had put clear and reasonably firm limits on the supremacy of the crown, and they had broken the supremacy of the church.  A strong legal profession had destroyed the clergy’s monopoly of learning.  There was broad agreement that only the parliament could make laws and that the judiciary had to be independent.  The battleground was to be the distribution of the executive and revenue powers between the crown and the parliament.  That issue led to two revolutions in England, and then one in America.

It was put to bed, finally, during the 17th century.  The conflicts with the Stuart kings were resolved in favour of parliament in the Bill of Rights.  This is the platform of the English constitution as it stands today.  It provided the basis of the American Declaration of Independence, and Australia’s Constitution would be set out in the schedule to an English Act of Parliament.

The fifth defining element of England as our parent was its subscription to representative government through parliament, and a reverence for the healing and binding powers of the law.  Things were very, very different across the Channel.

Here and there – The Wars of the Roses on the BBC


In 1964, the year of the Demons’ last flag, the BBC made a televised recording called The Wars of the Roses.  It consisted of a heavily edited version of four plays: Henry VI Parts I, 2, and 3, and Richard III.  The editing didn’t involve just cutting – new dialogue was added.  You can if you like try to spot the additions.  I couldn’t be bothered (and I suspect that my ear may be as dodgy as my palate).  The issue may in one sense be sterile, since it is unlikely that anyone will chance their arms by putting on the whole of the Henry VI trilogy in this country – they don’t try it often in England.  We get either an abridgement, or nothing.

This TV show was a huge undertaking.  The set was both massive and novel, and the cast was of the kind called ‘stellar’ in the popular press, although the producers were prepared to chance their arms.  The show was recorded over eight weeks with many stars who had been involved in a recent Stratford production of the four plays.

One object of the production was to demonstrate the relevance of many themes of the plays to modern politics.  The director, Peter Hall, said:

I became more and more fascinated by the contortions of politicians, and by the corrupting seductions experienced by anybody who wields power.  

The RSC issued a three CD set of the trilogy in 2016.  The show was shot in black and white and its grainy appearance lacks the definition of High Noon, but it is a great and historical production.

Each of the three parts is punishingly long – far too long to be taken in one hit in comfort.  When the BBC replayed the series, they did so in eleven parts.  The truth is that all four of these plays are too long, at least for Australian audiences.  Many years ago, I saw the RSC do the Full Monty on Richard III at the Barbican, and it was an ordeal for back and bum of Wagnerian dimensions

Before watching the series, you may wish to look at the supplement that has interviews with two surviving stars – David Warner (Henry VI) and Janet Suzman (Joan of Arc and Lady Anne).  Both would go on to wonderful careers, but each was hesitant at this stage, and their selection carried risk.  Warner was offered his role after three auditions.  He said he couldn’t believe it, and that he spent the first few days apologising for his selection.  It was a great choice.  His face, which is on the cover, was made to express the pain and indecision of a pious disaster.  Of his part, Kenneth Tynan would say ‘I have seen nothing more Christ-like in modern theatre.’  Either the critic had a queer view of Christ, or he missed that part where this idle fop disinherited his son so that he could hold on to power for a few years more.  (And I am a Tynan fan.)

When offered the role of Joan la Pucelle, Suzman asked who was she?  ‘Joan of Arc, you bloody idiot.’  Then she turned up on the set, and all ‘the big guns were there.’  I’m not personally familiar with how the hierarchy in the theatre manifests itself to relative novices, but I imagine you could get the kind of snakiness you may find among some barristers and test cricketers – that is, naked bitchiness.  Suzman says the editing was a corrective to a ‘biblical’ view of Shakespeare.  Her features then, and fifty years on, radiate a kind of strength – of a kind, perhaps, that the Lady Anne lacked.

One of the big guns that may have put the wind up Janet Suzman was Peggy Ashcroft.  She plays Margaret of Anjou, the queen of Henry VI, and the ‘she-wolf of France.’  She appears in every segment, and is the driving force for a lot of the action as the proud wife of an anaemic king, and the protective mother of his betrayed heir.  She starts as the young French girl who is wooed into a negotiated marriage, becomes the de facto ruler of England, and the serial killer of the enemies of her house, and ends as a savage old hag at risk of being accused of witchcraft (which they all believed in back then.)

Since the actress was fifty-six when she played this part, pulling it off would be a feat – but pull it off, she did.  Here is how a contemporary critic saw what appears to have been the original stage production.

.. the quite marvellous, fearsome performance of Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Margaret of Anjou, who skipped on to the stage, a lightfooted, ginger, sub-deb sub-bitch at about 11.35 a.m. and was last seen, a bedraggled crone with glittering eye, rambling and cussing with undiminished fury, 11 hours later, having grown before our eyes into a vexed and contumacious queen, a battle-axe and a maniac monster of rage and cruelty.. even the stoniest gaze was momentarily lowered from this gorgon.

Peggy Ashcroft said of her part as Margaret that she was:

….a Dark Lady if ever there was one – and prototype for Cressida, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth – was Shakespeare’s first ‘heroine’ – if such she can be called… It takes four plays to make her one of the great female characters in Shakespeare – and the full-length portrait has been seen only in The Wars of the Roses cycle – but she has facets that are not touched on in any other.

Margaret’s feral growls and hideous curses could cost you some sleep.

Janet Suzman is vital and gamin, and utterly followable as Joan of Arc.  The scene where the big hitters elect to pick either a white rose (York) or a red rose (Lancaster) resembles heavy chested Harley riders.  What are they missing that makes them show of so dangerously?  In truth these magnates resemble the Mafia more than the Hell’s Angels.  And the Mafia and the feudal system both evolve out of the same disorder – the failure of central government to provide security drives people to make other arrangements.  They seek protection elsewhere.  You look after me and I will look after you.

These lords and knights have that marvellous medieval accompaniment – their ‘powers’.  Their puissance, another word much used in these times, leads others to pledge allegiance – to their liege lords.  It is I suppose the kind of thing you see in shows like House of Cards, but there is something less prosaic about ‘powers’ than poll ratings or factions or unions or think tanks or talk shows.

We are talking about chess played with extreme prejudice.  The magnates are like the knights and bishops, or even rooks, except that the rules are there to be flouted.  The concept of allegiance was at best fluid.  The followers – the powers – of the Duke of Burgundy or Lord Gloucester were as solid and reliable as the Tory ministers of Mrs Theresa May.

I will not mention all the players.  The cast includes Roy Dotrice, Brewster Mason, Eric Porter, and the others mentioned here.  The rose pickers include Donald Sinden as Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, and William Squire as Suffolk (the wooer and lover of Margaret).  Sinden’s voice reminds me of Drambuie.  There is something about it that makes it instantly recognizable, rather like the deflated Kevin Spacey.

When I lived in South Yarra, I could walk to and from work in the east end of Collins St, about thirty-five minutes each way, and in about four months listen to all thirty-eight plays.  (It was then that I was glad that I had seen Cymbeline and Troilus and Cressida because I would not be doing so again; and Cyril Cusack’s Iago put me off Othello for life.)  I suppose I had heard A Winter’s Tale on four or five occasions, before one day, out of nowhere, on the tan, I recognized the voice of the lead – there was no doubt it was William Squire who played Hunter in nearly all the twenty or so episodes of Callan.  And in this trilogy there is also a lot of that eyebrow rolling and nasally drawled incredulity.  It is bliss for Callan fans.

Gloucester (Paul Hardwick) is the definitive politician and the unfortunate Winchester (Nicholas Selby) is played like Joel Grey in Cabaret.  Both could have walked straight out of Yes, Minister.

The Jack Cade sequence was to my mind hopelessly over the top, and too violent.  Indeed, there are many scenes of horrific violence.  We get to see what a blood feud can really look like, generation after generation.  Janet Suzman remarked on the violence, and the role of cabbages in the decapitations.  She said people were fainting all over the place.

One of my favourite scenes from this playwright is the confrontation between Queen Margaret and the Duke of York.  She taunts him about his progeny.

And where’s that valiant crookback prodigy,

 Dicky your boy, that with his grumbling voice

Was wont to cheer his dad in mutinies?

Well, we’ll get to see this Dicky in full murderous flight in the next episode, but this French-born woman steels herself not just to extinguish her womanhood, but her humanity.  She will mock not just knighthood, but fatherhood.  She rubs the nose of York into the blood of Rutland (his son) on a handkerchief.  She says she mocks him to make him mad so that she can sing and dance.  She puts a paper crown on the head of the man who would be king and says:

Ay, marry, sir, now he looks like a king

Ay, this is he who took King Henry’s chair

And this is he was his adopted heir.

But how is it that great Plantagenet

Is crowned so soon, and broke his solemn oath?

Off with the crown, and with the crown his head!

And whilst we breathe, take time to do him dead!  


The BBC version is not for children.  Margaret by now is oozing hate, and we start to get that old Greek feeling of whole houses being cursed.  (In the McKellen film, Annette Bening as Queen Elizabeth gave meaning to the phrase ‘Ay me!  I see the ruin of my house’ – ‘Welcome destruction, blood, and massacre’.  She was right.)  The violence was perhaps not so surprising after the assassination of Kennedy, and the beginning of the war in Vietnam.  And the Cold War was stepping up, so mutilation by a sickle in the area of the groin may have then had different significance.  We have now been exposed to so much more horror, that this level of explicitness looks as unnecessary as it is unkind.

In the final part, we see evil made manifest in Richard III played by Ian Holm.  Richard III is a master class in the kind of stunt pulled by Peisistratus that was made whole by Mussolini and perfected by Hitler.  The part as played by Ian Holm is so threatening because it is underdone.  It’s as if the producers wanted to comment on the ‘banality of evil’ that Hannah Arendt saw in Eichmann.  (He was one of those mass murderers who went to work with mass death in his brief case.)  What we are presented with here is not motiveless malignity, but wanton evil.  Most people can get hot for sex; the world must be peopled; but some people, sadly, get hot for evil.

Ian Holm was born to act.  For this role he also brings the advantages of relative youth and shortness of size.  He said:

I played Richard very much as a cog in the historical wheel, and not as an individual character. We tried very hard to get away from the Olivier/Irving image of the great Machiavellian villain.

When Richard is confronted with his bloody past, we get the kind of apologia that Fox News reserves for Donald Trump.

Look, what is done cannot now be amended.

Men shall deal unadvisedly sometimes

Which afterhours gives leisure to repent.


The scene where Richard confronts Anne is difficult, because it is revolting.  But we have been rudely reminded that quite revolting people – including racist morons – might appeal to people who don’t mind being revolted, or who just don’t care.  And we are also reminded of the difference between the power of sex appeal – that this king had none of – and the sex appeal of power.  When we say that power corrupts, it is not just the wielder who can be corrupted, but those who come within its thrall.  The regimes we least admire work on dragging people down to their level and then locking them into the regime by their complicity.

All that and more is on show here in this remarkable trilogy for the preservation of which we owe much thanks.

PS. May I add a note about Hunter? Callan worked for the British spooks.  He was dragooned into it, and to do dirty hit jobs, because they got to him in the Big House.  He has come up the hard way.  His only mate is a scruffy Cockney cab driver called Lonely.  Hunter is from the Establishment.  So is another agent, Toby Meares.  They are observing from afar Callan on a dangerous mission to meet a deadly Russian killer.  Hunter scowls – he’s good at that – when Meares expresses a moral qualm about the danger to Callan.

Well, then, what would you do if you were in my position, Meares?

Well, on reflection, I think I would do nothing, Sir.

In that case, I would applaud your reticence, Meares.

Oh, don’t applaud, Sir – that way your right hand might know what your left hand is doing.


If you watch William Squire in The Wars of the Roses – he is Buckingham at the end – you will see immediately why he was a natural for the part of Hunter – and why he continues to play a substantial part in my entertainment.  As it happens, Buckingham is one of the most vapid and watery liars the world has known.  He is the Platonic form of the kind of politician who drives the rest of us mad.

Passing Bull 147 – Bull about freedom and religion


Israel Folau is a champion footballer.  He has played in three codes.  He has a Pacific Island background.  He also has Christian views of a fundamentalist kind.  He is, I think, a Mormon.  When asked on social media what were God’s plans for gays, Israel said that unless they repent their sins, their plan is hell.

Many people cannot tolerate the idea of a God who could subject people to eternal agony.  That happens to be my view.  Hell is simply not negotiable for me.  And it only gets worse if people say you might be blasted in eternal fires if you are born to people of the wrong faith or if you are gay.

It is one thing to say that being gay is a sin; it is another thing to say that you must go to hell for that sin – unless you repent, and do so according to the rites of the right faith.  For many people – including me – that proposition is a double dose of religious intolerance and cruelty.  It is a reminder of the savage dogma that saw people burnt at the stake, and which gives religion generally a bad name.  Rightly or wrongly, many people would strongly resent these views of Israel Folau.  His position could only cement their views on the dangers of religious intolerance.

Those running rugby here were put in a terrible position.  They cannot be seen to discriminate against any minority on a ground such as this.  It is becoming increasingly difficult for business to remain morally neutral.  The provisions in the contracts of most professional sports people will bear on their capacity to earn their livelihood if they are found to have acted in a way that brings their sport into disrepute.  For one footballer to discriminate publicly against another on the ground of race, religion or sexuality is, in Australia in 2018, likely to be found to have just that effect.  I am not aware of any law that trenches upon the freedom of parties to contract in those terms.  It follows that, depending on the terms of his contract, Israel may be found to have acted in breach of that contract, and therefore unlawfully, by saying what he did, and in denigrating gay people by so doing.  No sane person wants to go to hell.

It does not help that the CEO of the game’s major sponsor here is gay.  Nor does it help that the religious fervour of Israel apparently precludes him from backing down on public utterances on this subject.  The administrators are not seeking to compel Israel to do something against his faith – by, say, playing sport or earning a living on the Sabbath.  All they ask is that he freely abstains from a course of conduct that no one says is mandatory.  It escapes me how his faith could forbid him to elect to follow that course.  Is he not a free man?  Or is he saddled with all the lack of tact and savoir faire of a black, male Cordelia?

This kind of scrum is blood to a tiger for some on Sky or the Murdoch press.  They say that Israel’s freedom of speech is in issue.  That is silly.  No one is suggesting that Israel broke any law having the sanction of the general law.  But neither can anyone suggest that in speaking publicly on a matter of controversy, Israel should be free of the moral, social or political consequence of his actions.  I may or may not be legally free to say that Hitler didn’t go far enough with the Jews, or that Mormons are either fakes or dupes, or that Pacific Islanders are dangerous religious bigots, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to face the other consequences that flow from my choice of words and my decision to speak out.  Freedom of speech in this context means my right to say what I like without having to face the sanction of the general law.  It does not give me any immunity from consequences that are not imposed by the operation of the law.

Here are some extracts from Jennifer Oriel in The Australian, 23 April 2018, under the heading ‘Freedom of Speech Supports Israel Folau’s Love of God.’

Israel Folau is a Christian — not the PC kind. He is the embodiment of modern Christianity; young, black and evangelical. The furore over Folau’s decision to cite the Bible in response to a question about God reveals the unreasonable nature of Australian secularism. It raises the question of whether religious freedom is valued or even understood as a substantive right.

Does faith have a future in Australian life, or will Christians be resigned to the closet?

There is no freedom of religion unless there is freedom to exercise it.  The question put to Folau on Instagram was explicitly religious and demanded an answer from Biblical scripture….

Folau has been subjected to abuse, slander and threats of unemployment for paraphrasing scripture, despite the fact he was asked about it.

Some journalists have suggested that sponsors withdraw funding to punish his dissent. ….Others have emphasised a golden opportunity for Rugby Australia to enact vengeance; Folau’s contract is up for renewal. The most curious opinion is that Folau should not profess Christian beliefs on social media even when asked about Christian beliefs on social media.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, former rugby player Tim Horan offered support for Folau’s freedom of speech, but ‘not on social media’. Instead, he contended that such views are better confined to a backyard barbecue because: ‘You are paid for by Rugby Australia … via sponsors and I think you have an obligation to those sponsors.’  It is a flawed argument. The basis of free speech as a right and principle of Western civilisation is the exercise of speech to empower the flourishing of public reason…..

But some sponsors jumped on the PC bandwagon to condemn Folau. The worst of them hid behind a shield of anonymity while attacking him in the press — a coward’s punch…..

Criticisms of Folau as prejudiced or too outspoken fail the test of reason. He didn’t stop play and shout out ‘hell to gays’ in the middle of a match. He responded to an explicit question about the word of God on the question of homosexuality. And he responded by referring to the Bible. If you ask what God’s plan is, be prepared for the answer…..

Those who oppose Folau’s right to cite scripture are advocating censorship of the Bible.

It’s not quite as dramatic as book burning, but the principle is the same.

You might not believe in the Bible. You might not believe in God. …..Ask yourself whether the history of state atheism enforced by totalitarian regimes is the future you want for Australia.

I have dealt with the freedom of speech point.  Israel was free to speak as he did.  Others, including unhappy sponsors and administrators, were free to respond as they did.  The references to censorship and book burning are almost obligatory for people who share Ms Oriel’s views, and they are downright silly.  Mr Horan’s view looks very reasonable – no one is asking Israel to go against or even to forego his faith.  They merely ask that he abstain from any public expression of dogma – that is very far from being shared across the spectrum of Christianity – in a way that will bring difficulty and possible financial loss to those who pay his very, very large salary.  The dispute has nothing to do with ‘empowering the flourishing of public reason.’  The final sentence could most politely be described as hysterical.

There are two other points.  Ms Oriel suggests – she mentions it four times – that it is significant that Israel expressed his views in answer to a question.  On no view did Israel have to say anything.  What difference does it make if I praise Hitler in the course of my own discussion or in response to a question?  If I may refer to Scripture, when I was a child, I spoke like a child, but if ever I said that I had acted in response to what someone had said to me, the answer of my mum was : ‘If they had suggested that you put your head in the oven, would you have done that?’

Would it make any difference if I advocated Sharia Law, or said that it was ordained by Allah, in the course of a dissertation or in response to a question?  Would Ms Oriel’s commitment to freedom of speech and religion commit her to defending a Muslim whose views are as fundamentalist, and provocative, as those of Israel?  It is a simple non sequitur to argue that those who object to Israel’s views are trying to impede his religious freedom.  They are objecting to his seeking to ram his dogma down their throats, and as far as I know they may do so on the footing that his conduct may damage the social fabric, just as it may cause others commercial harm.  When Ms Oriel refers to ‘the unreasonable nature of Australian secularism’, she may be forgetting how much of her time is absorbed in blacking Islam and those who choose to follow that faith.  In the 50’s, people of Ms Oriel’s ilk found a Red under every bed.  Now, it’s a jihadi.  How can this sectarian loathing do anyone any good?

Finally, there is the mandatory reference to PC.  If being PC means being reluctant to show your love of God by smearing those who have a different view to you about religion or sexuality, then the more we see of it, the better we will be.  Even God may come out of it all smelling better.


At roughly the same time, Mr Hannity, on his radio show, said it was strange to see his name appearing on Fox News and wondered aloud if he should release a statement.

Just before 4 p.m., he posted a message on Twitter: ‘Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.’

In a follow-up tweet, Mr Hannity added, ‘I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.’

New York Times, 17 April, 2018

The phrase ‘I never retained him’ is a legal conclusion, but if it is right, Mr Cohen has claimed a privilege that is not there.


Morrison said Friday’s announcement on penalties ‘had a very long gestational period’ dating back to the financial services inquiry in the first term of government.

‘The fact that we can stand before you today and announce the outcome of this long period of work demonstrates that we have been working on this for a very long period of time, and working sequentially through the issues that need to be addressed,’ the treasurer said.

‘We have not moved into any area here lightly.’

He suggested the government had resisted calls for the royal commission before establishing one last year on the same rationale. ‘You must act carefully in this area.’

The Guardian, 23 April, 2018

In some circles the word ‘sorry’ does not exist.  Just more bullshit.

Us and the US


[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’.  That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings.  That format will be followed in the précis.  The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception; 3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword.  Each chapter is about 1400 words.]


If you want to understand something, it may help if you compare it to something else.  If you want to come to terms with what it means to be a dog, you can look hard at what it may mean to be a cat.  There is more to this than just looking at a portrait from different angles, or looking at a sculpture in the round.  By comparing one case to another, we get a cleaner view of the essential attributes of each – what distinguishes one from another is part of what defines each.

I should say of course that this notion is not new.  At some time many millennia ago, some of our earthly ancestors noticed that a stone moved faster downhill if it was smooth and round than if it was uneven and jagged.  Comparing one case to another to identify its properties is a process that it is at the heart of our experimental or scientific method, and the process that has underlay the development of the laws in England, America and Australia over more than one thousand years.

So if you want to try to see what makes one nation tick, as we say, it may help to look at it compared to another nation.  And a good way to start that process is by looking at aspects of the histories of the two nations that are being compared.  That is what this book seeks to do with the two nations that we know as America and Australia – to compare the two of them by looking at key aspects of the evolution of both of them.

This is not a potted history of either, but a collection of snapshots of each taken side by side as these nations negotiated some of the principal stepping stones in their progress across the stream of history.  I have the pious hope that what passes for the subject matter of the snapshots may be uncontroversial if not prosaic, leaving discussion only for the inferences to be drawn and comments that might be made, but experience suggests that such a hope is likely to be illusory and hardly pious.

Both America and Australia started out as refuges for rejected boat people, two terms of abuse now in some quarters, but although they share an original common ancestor, their stories are very different.  How, and why, is this the case?

I should disclose my more significant sources of prejudice.  I am an Australian white male, middle class professional, who is much closer to death than birth.  I have no political affiliation, but I have a mistrust of government in general, and politicians and their parties in particular.  My perfect government is one that has as little to do with me as is decently possible – especially the part that hands out speeding tickets.  I have made a handsome living from a profession that we in this country derive from England.  I have an unlimited sense of admiration for the contribution that England has made to the civilization of the West and to the history and character of both America and Australia, and an almost equally unlimited frustration at the inability of my nation to cut what I see as apron strings tying Australia to England, and to stand on its own two feet.  A dark cloud hangs over my descent to the dust – that I shall leave this earth before my country gets what I regard as its independence.  I have no belief in a personal God, but I believe that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are a little like cutlery – they are what distinguish us from the gorillas.  As the white people took America and Australia, they committed crimes against the native peoples of those lands in ways that violated every part of the great religious laws that I have mentioned, but in common with most other people, I have no real idea of what to do about those wrongs now.

Doubtless other of my prejudices will become apparent to you as you go through this book, which I hope that you will enjoy.


Here and there – Gallipoli by Les Carlyon


When I visited Gallipoli nearly twenty years ago, my guide, a most affable former naval officer, was proud to show me the gun emplacements on the Asian side where ‘the sick man of Europe’ had stopped the greatest navy in the world – in circumstances that still excite misgivings and bad feelings, and not just down here.  I can’t recall now whether Ali said that the Turks were lucky that the British navy stopped the fight after only one day of its concerted attack, because the Turks were dangerously low on ammunition.  This would not be the last time in that war that the British pride in their navy operated to make them duck putting a critical battle to the issue.  That’s exactly what Lord Denning thought Jellicoe had done at Jutland, and Denning never forgave him.

We looked at those guns on our way to Troy.  Then, after a night at Cannakale, we returned to the European side.  We then spent about five hours going around the major sites, such as Anzac Cove and Lone Pine.  When we got to the summit of the ridge called Chunuk Bair, we could see the narrows of the Dardanelles.  My guide told me that the New Zealanders had taken this peak, and that if the Allied forces had been able to hold it, they could well have broken through and gone on to Constantinople.  In light of all the human misery and inanity I had been looking at that day, this hypothetical was hardly comforting.

Well, as Les Carlyon remarks more than once in his book Gallipoli (2001), the battles around Gallipoli, like those of the Trojan War, were full of ‘what ifs’ or ‘if onlys.’

The man who led the charge to the summit of Chunuk Bair was a New Zealander commanding soldiers from around Wellington and Otago, Colonel William George Malone.  He certainly looks the part – one of those solid, square-jawed six-footers that you see in the forward pack of the All Blacks, a man apparently born to lead.  (Some of the Maori units performed the haka before battle, to the bemusement of the locals.)  As well as being a land agent and solicitor with five offices, Malone was a farmer.  He had about 2000 acres around Stratford.  This is what Carlyon says of this farmer turned warrior.

Malone, tall and straight-backed, didn’t fit any of the stereotypes.  He was born near London but saw himself as a New Zealander.  He was of Irish descent and the temper of his adopted land was Scottish.  He spoke French and loved classical music.  He liked soldiering but was never going to make general: he was ambitious but not in the sense that he was prepared to win promotions over the bodies of his men; he was always going to be more popular with his men than with his superiors. He was bossy and petty, a man of tidy habits that bordered on fetishes, yet his men loved him.  Sixty years after Chunuk Bair, old men who had served with ‘Molly Malone’ spoke of him with reverence.  He was their father; he had looked after them.

If that is right, Malone was everything that most of his English commanding officers at Gallipoli were not.

Three days before his last on this earth, Malone wrote the following letter to his wife.

I expect to go through all right but, dear wife, if anything untoward happens to me there are our dear children to be brought up.  You know how I love and have loved you…..If at any time in the past I seemed absorbed in ‘affairs’, it was that I might make proper provision for you and the children….It is true perhaps that I overdid it somewhat.  I believe now that I did, but did not see it at the time.  I regret very much now that it was so and that I lost more happiness than I need have done.  You must forgive me; forgive also anything unkindly or hard that I may have said or done in the past….I have made a will and it is in the office in Stratford….I am prepared for death and hope that God will have forgiven me all my sins.

Malone woke his batman at 3 am on 8 August 1915 and gave him the address of his wife in case he got killed.  He shook hands with the man and said ‘Goodbye.’

The Wellingtons advanced sixteen abreast and got to the summit of Chunuk Bair with relative ease.  They were to be joined later by Gloucesters and Welsh Pioneers.  As Carlyon says, ‘thoughts of victory teased.’  But they also saw that the summit would be hard to defend.  In the area were Sikhs, Australians, Gurkhas and New Army boys.  Monash, Australia’s best general, was having what Charles Bean, the military historian, called ‘one of those black days’.  The young Kiwis astride Chunuk Bair were about to be put to the test that no sane man wants to face.

Some New Zealanders who fought on Chunuk Bair never saw the Narrows.  Malone didn’t stare at them for long.  He was a practical man; he knew that looking at the narrows was not the same as owning them.  He had to hold this awkwardly shaped summit; that was the first thing.  And after 5 am, when the haze lifted and the Turkish riflemen could see their targets, clinging to that summit became one of the epics of the Gallipoli campaign.  ….By 5 am the Turks were starting to pick off the Wellingtons.  The Gloucesters and Welsh Pioneers were shot down as they came up to reinforce Malone.  The Gloucesters on Malone’s left broke as they tried to dig in….  The Turks could creep to within twenty yards of the Wellingtons before being seen.  The front trench, which was too shallow anyway, became clogged with dead and wounded.  By 6.30 am, Malone was running a tremendous battle….The New Zealanders’ rifles became too hot to hold.

Even by the standards of Gallipoli and Troy, this was hell made flesh.  One Kiwi took a Turkish trench, and ended up standing on the dead and wounded.  He said the colour of the earth was blood.  The Wellingtons made short bayonet charges at the advancing Turks.  Malone himself used a bayonet.  It was buckled by a bullet.  An officer told Malone a man of his rank should not lead such charges.  Malone replied: ‘You’re only a kid – I’m an old man – get out yourself!’  A reporter on the beach later met a New Zealander with ten bayonet wounds.

Malone moved about all day amid this carnage trying to hold morale.  At about 5pm Malone was hit by a misdirected shrapnel burst that had come from either an Anzac battery or a warship.  He fell to friendly fire.

So died one of the grand and original figures of the Gallipoli campaign, a free spirit who could stretch his mind beyond the clubby world …and would stretch his integrity for no man.  It seems unconscionable that he received no posthumous decoration for his day on Chunuk Bair.  By the standards set at Lone Pine, he should have received the Victoria Cross.  In death, as in life, Malone was not much loved by those in authority.  He was always going to be an outsider.  Mater [his wife] took her three children to England during the war and never returned to New Zealand.  Malone’s farms were sold and his large family home burned down.  His son Edmond died of wounds in France in 1918.

The vast tragedy that engulfed the House of Malone could have come straight out of Homer.  It is within my personal knowledge that the Australians who fought in that war held two lifelong gripes against the English officer class – their incompetence or heartlessness in the field, and their lousiness in accepting the courage and competence of the colonials.  If medals are given to those who carry out their duty over a sustained period of time while facing probable death or mutilation, then in a just world, every one of those poor bastards on Chunuk Bair should have got a Victoria Cross, dead or alive.  Of the 760 Wellingtons who had arrived on the crest that morning, only two officers and 47 men remained unwounded.

They looked like the nightshift leaving a clandestine abattoir.  Their uniforms were torn and spattered with blood.  They had drunk no water since dawn and barely slept for two days.  According to Bean, they talked in whispers, trembled and cried.  Some bled to death and others went mad with thirst.  Some asked when the stretcher-bearers were coming and were told they weren’t.  Others prayed or hallucinated or passed out…..Some of the wounded from August 8 took three days to travel down…, attacked by flies the whole way, thirsty the whole way, covered in dust with bloody clothes stuck to their bodies.

The New Zealanders left on the summit were relieved later that day by British New Army Battalions.  They were swept off the summit on 10 August by an attack led personally by Mustafa Kemal in what Carlyon calls ‘death by avalanche.’  The Australian war historian Charles Bean dropped his guard at a time when people did not blush to use the word ‘race’.  ‘The truth is that after 100 years of breeding in slums, the British race is not the same….It is breeding one fine class at the expense of all the rest.’  Good God, did the descendants of convicts see themselves as ethnically superior to the stock of the Mother Country?  Well, putting race to one side, the nemesis of the British had intervened once again to save his nation from defeat at the hands of accursed infidels.

One Victoria Cross was awarded to the immortally brave New Zealanders who took Chunuk Bair and held it until they were relieved.  It was given to Corporal Cyril Bassett, a signaller.  Carlyon said that Bassett knew the truth about Chunuk Bair.  ‘All my mates ever got were wooden crosses.’

By contrast, seven Australians won the Victoria Cross at Lone Pine, two of them posthumously.  The British saw Lone Pine as a win.  Chunuk Bair was a loss.  We must suspect that the British were laying the seeds of what has become a vicious trait in the Australian psyche.  We don’t like soldiers who lose.  We turned our back on those returning from Vietnam, and we are now giving the same treatment to those who fought for us in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The French lost more soldiers than Australia did at Gallipoli, but they were not a young nation in quest of a legend.  And statistics can be demeaning.  They can rob a story of its moral horror.  To understand that horror, and the ghastly sense of chance and waste, we need to be reminded of the story of Molly Malone and his men.  That story is worth more than all the charts and graphs on earth.

It looks to me that Carlyon told the story of Gallipoli as it should be told and that he is very sensible and fair in looking at those responsible.  Churchill’s conception was at best romantic – his family said he was always dangerous with a map in his hand – but his powers of persuasion turned the heads of those who should have known better.  Fisher was sceptical but erratic.  Kitchener was aloof and out of date, but the others walked in fear of him.  The command at home was divided and the overall strategy bears an uncomely resemblance to that of the English and Americans in Iraq.  Hamilton was literate and urbane, but they are not the qualities you need in an abattoir, and he walked in fear of his betters.  The original plan was to have the navy do the job, but the navy got timid, and Plan B was not thought through.  Then there was the incompetence or cruelty of the officers on the ground.

Two young nations sacrificed the flower of a whole generation in a great Imperial balls-up.  When Kitchener finally got to Gallipoli, he was driven to a confession, although this old man may not have seen it that way.  ‘The country is much more difficult than I imagined, and the Turkish positions….are natural fortresses, which, if not taken by surprise at first, could he held against very serious attacks by larger forces than have been engaged…..To gain what we hold has been a most remarkable feat of arms….Everyone has done wonders.’  Nothing ever surprised the Turks in this campaign.  The Minister of War was therefore admitting that his ignorance had led to the unnecessary slaughter of thousands upon thousands over seven months in pursuit of what was obviously unattainable.  When Kitchener told the ANZACS that the ‘King has asked me to tell you how splendidly he thinks you have done – you have done splendidly, better even than I thought you would’, those poor deluded remnants cheered him heartily.

Although I have made my pilgrimage to Gallipoli, and to the Western Front, the mystique of Anzac Day remains as impenetrable to me as that of the Holy Trinity.  I wonder what that hard head Molly Malone and his men would have made of it.  I can’t help wondering if their response might be: ‘Why in the name of God are you celebrating the campaign where good and brave men got slaughtered – and all for nothing?’

Carlyon closed his chapter on Lone Pine citing a letter home from a young soldier who wrote home to his parents in Hawthorn (Melbourne).  Private James Martin had given his occupation as ‘farmhand’.  He told his mum and dad that the troops had got a present from Lady Ferguson, the wife of the Governor-General – ‘2 fancy biscuits, half stick of Chocolate and 2 sardines each.  I think I have told you all the news so I must draw to a close with Fondest love to all.’

Private Martin craved a letter.  Across the top of his letter he scrawled: ‘Write soon.  I have received no letters since I left Victoria and I have been writing often.’  A little over a fortnight later, he died from heart failure, probably caused by enteric fever, and was buried at sea.

His enlistment papers gave his age as 18.  At the time of his death, he was 14 years and nine months.  Among his effects was a scrap of red and white streamer that he had picked up as his troopship left Melbourne.

It sounds like the poor little bugger never made it off the boat.  God only knows how his mum and dad took the news when the telegram arrived back at Hawthorn on the other side of the world.

Passing Bull 146 – Some bad rights


If I agree to paint your house for a fee, and after I start the work, I make it clear that I will not perform my part of the contract, then the law says that you can put an end to the contract and make other arrangements free of any further obligation to me.  If you do that, the law says I have ‘repudiated’ the contract, and that by ‘accepting’ that repudiation, you have brought the contract to an end – by the operation of the law.

In broad terms, that is what happened in the English Revolution in 1689, the American Revolution in 1776, and the French Revolution in 1789 and later.  The people said to their king, with the force of arms – ‘You have broken your word and you have not done your job.  We dismiss you and we will set up a new form of government.’  Indeed, the great French historian Marc Bloch said that the contract between a feudal lord and his vassal was a genuine contract to the same effect.  ‘If the lord failed to fulfil his engagements, he lost his rights.’  Bloch foresaw how this doctrine might be applied in the political sphere – ‘it was reinforced by the very ancient notions which held the king responsible in a mystical way for the welfare of his subjects and deserving of punishment in the event of public calamity.’

During the course of events that we label the French Revolution, the French had a go at defining what they called the rights of man.  They did it in 1789 and again in 1793.  People now generally go the 1789 model, when hope and innocence reigned.  By 1793, France and the world had seen the terrorism of the Jacobins.  They had to face the familiar problem of those who come to power by force: how do you stop others doing the same to you?

Article 25 of the 1793 French Declaration of the Rights of Man says:

When the government violates the rights of the people, insurrection is for the people and for each portion of the people the most sacred of rights and the most indispensable of duties.

This provision was not in the original version.  History suggests that it was most unwise to purport to give a legal formulation and blessing to a right of insurrection – the right to revolt.  Who will rule on the issue of whether the right has crystallized?  The answer can only be force of arms – if you win, you are the government; if you lose, you get executed for treason.

But some kind of claim to a right of insurrection was instrumental in a string of revolutions that cruelly bedevilled France for a century after 1789.  And it still works to stand in the way of reform in France.  Industrial action there is a form of insurrection.  Social positions get entrenched as matters of status to an extent that is medieval – or even feudal.  That was not what the revolution was about.  The result?   The public sector consumes 56% of GDP in France; train drivers can retire at 50; and the nation braces itself for more insurrection against the reforms of President Macron.

A century beforehand, the English had used a different tack.  Article 6 of the Declaration of Rights prohibits the raising of a standing army except with the consent of parliament.  If it is hard for a king to drive a program without money, it was even harder for the king to conduct a coup without an army.  The king had been neutralised, as history has since shown.  But the Declaration goes further than ensuring that the king would have no army.  In Magna Carta, the barons were in a position to dictate that the king would sign up for a truly life-threatening security clause that could be invoked if he were to misbehave.  The barons could in effect appoint themselves receivers to enter into and seize crown property.  Well, that would hardly do nearly five hundred years later, and William and Mary were in a much stronger negotiating position than King John.  Besides, English lords or knights from the shires would hardly have had any interest in or any capacity to take over affairs on Chesapeake Bay, or from the Begums of Oudh.  So, Article 7 provided, and still does, that ‘the subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions and as allowed by law’.  .

The incoming king was an experienced man of arms and a seasoned man of affairs. There can be no doubt that he appreciated the inevitable consequence of Articles 6 and 7 of the Declaration of Rights. ‘Your Majesty shall have no army unless we agree, but we shall remain armed whether you agree or not.  If there is a disagreement about how you discharge your obligations, and we cannot resolve that disagreement by negotiation in good faith, and our differences have to be resolved by the arbitrament of arms, we shall prevail and you shall lose.  Your best option then will be exile.’  If they had been in a mordant frame of mind, they may have given Prince William a sketch of the shed where they kept the axe.

Sir Jack Plumb said:  ‘The Bill of Rights had its sanctions clauses – there was to be no standing army and Protestant gentlemen were to be allowed arms; the right of rebellion is implicit.’   The phrase ‘right of rebellion’ may make constitutional lawyers blush, but Sir Jack may have had in mind the right of the innocent party to accept the conduct of a guilty party as the repudiation of a contract, so bringing it to an end.  Plumb had also said that:  ‘the power of the 17th century gentry was sanctioned by violence’ and that ‘by 1688, violence in politics was an Englishman’s birth-right’.

Or course, now that English political society has ceased to treat violence as its ultimate sanction, these constitutional provisions have become a dead letter, as they clearly should be so regarded in any civilised society.  This is not so across the Atlantic, where the American version of the right to bear arms serves to keep the United States in the race for the title of the murder capital of the world.  There they have, but refuse to confront, the problem facing the French after 1789.  A right simply to bear arms is useless unless the citizen can lawfully claim to use them.  Who decides that? The lethal American answer is the gun.

What is the point?  Declaring rights broadly is bloody dangerous.



‘Qantas objecting to what Folau is saying about homosexuality is beyond laughable.  I don’t agree with Israel but I’ve told him most explicitly that he must not back down.’

The Australian, 13 April 2018

Alan Jones with his characteristic humility.

Speaking later with reporters aboard Air Force One as Mr. Trump headed to Florida, Ms. Sanders added that ‘the president has been clear that he’s going to be tough on Russia, but at the same time he’d still like to have a good relationship with them.’

Another White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal deliberations, said Mr. Trump had decided not to go forward with the sanctions. Mr. Trump concluded that they were unnecessary because Moscow’s response to the airstrike was mainly bluster, the official said.

The New York Times, 17 April, 2018.

Well, he can recognise bluster when he sees it.

Passing bull 145 – Bull about independence


What does it mean to be independent?  The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary says: ‘Not depending upon the authority of another; not in a position of subordination; not subject to external control or rule; self-governing, free.’  The root of the condition is not being dependent.  What does that mean?  ‘To be contingent on or conditioned by.’

Can I retain a lawyer to examine my affairs and then express an opinion on them that can be presented to a third party, say a government office, as independent?  Let us say that I am the only source of instructions to the lawyer; that I am solely responsible for paying the lawyer; and that the lawyer stands in a position of trust and confidence to me such that they cannot have an interest or duty that conflicts with their duty to me.  They are all typical incidents of the relationship between lawyer and client.

If you look at the definitions set out above, you will see immediately that there are difficulties, to put it softly, in my retaining a lawyer to present to a third party an opinion, however called, that is in any sense independent.  The lawyer depends on my authority, is subordinate to me (unless I want break the law), is subject to my control and rule and their opinion will be wholly contingent upon or conditioned by my instructions – and payment for services rendered.

So, when AMP and its lawyers, Clayton Utz, purported to present to a government agency, ASIC, a report or opinion of Clayton Utz that was in any way independent, they were chancing their arm, again to put it softly, but in cricket terms.  The accounts in the press of the evidence before the Royal Commission suggest that their stratagem was doomed from the inception.

AMP could at any time have stopped the retainer and the process.  The letter of instruction from the Chair of AMP asked to be notified of any ‘findings’ that mentioned members of the board or executive team.  What does this mean except ‘You are free to say what you like – unless we don’t like it’?  The wording is at best unfortunate.  Lawyers are not usually retained to give a ‘report’ or conduct an ‘investigation’.  They are certainly not there to make ‘findings’.  They give an opinion based on the instructions they receive.  Part of that opinion may relate to the findings that may be made by the court or other body that has the power to make them.

So, the problem was there from the start.  The evidence I have seen does not reveal the extent to which this firm had acted for AMP.  I gather it was substantial.  The relationship was obviously close.  The in-house counsel was a former partner of the firm.  He liaised with the partner handling the matter to get a result satisfactory to AMP.  One report says that he asked for the final say over the wording.  The Chair was also actively involved, so we know where the buck stops here.  She was also involved in protecting the name of the former CEO, who was paid $8.3 million.  Another high executive was protected.  The firm provided at least 25 drafts to the client, and the company now admits misleading ASIC on at least 25 occasions.  It is preposterous to suggest that the final document was in any sense independent.  It was an elaborate cover-up.

The law firm owed obligations of trust and confidence to the corporation.  According to its website, the firm expresses that obligation as follows.

Our key obligation:  We will perform the work with professional skill and diligence acting as your independent legal advisers.  We will act solely in your interests in any matter on which you retain us unless you ask us also to act for other parties in that matter.  We will not perform work for you if factors such as a conflict of interests prevent us from accepting your instructions.

There may be legal difficulties displacing that obligation.  But how can those obligations of loyalty or fidelity stand against an obligation to give an ‘independent report.’  At what point does the lawyer say: ‘If I carry out my retainer according to its terms, you the client will suffer damage’?   How does the law firm escape discharging that duty consistently it carrying out its key obligation?

The press reports are full of exclamations of shock.  People expressing shock are naïve.  Professional people commonly submit drafts of opinions to clients for a variety of reasons, some more pure than others.  ASIC used to do with people under investigation.  This Royal Commission will submit draft findings to targets.

What is shocking here is that a major corporate and a major law firm thought that such a crude stunt was worth a try on.  In other words, they thought that they had a better than sporting chance of convincing ASIC that what it was receiving was ‘findings made in an independent report.’  Heaven help us if AMP and its lawyers were right about that.  Is the reputation of ASIC so low in the business and legal fraternities?  Does AMP not know that the cover-up is usually worse than the original crime?

We cannot the comparison with ball tampering.  What is worse – the brazenness of the original act of cheating, or the inanity of the attempts to cover it up?


‘To both survive and succeed as Prime Minister in the coming months, Turnbull has to change.  If he is to lead the Liberal Party and defeat Bill Shorten and Labor at the next election, Turnbull has to develop a more political character or be prepared to take advice from those who have one.’

Dennis Shanahan, The Australian, 9 April 2018

What did we do to warrant such perpetual banality – about opinion polls, no less?


Industry super fund Cbus has been ordered to apologise to more than 300 of its members after the Australian Privacy Commissioner found it breached their privacy.’

Australian Financial Review, 12  April 2018

Am I alone to wonder about ordering someone to apologise?  What if they are in fact not sorry when they say they are?

Here and there – Courtesy, cutlery and gorillas


An Australian playwright remarked that the difference between us and gorillas was cutlery.  He may also have said courtesy.  Indeed, cutlery is a function of courtesy – rather than tearing at meat with our hands, we add a knife and fork to add custom, style, ornament, hygiene, and ritual to the meal.

The word courtesy originally referred to the manners of the court.  Now Debrett’s Etiquette and Modern Manners teaches us that ‘good manners means showing consideration for others – a sensibility that is innate in some people and in others requires considerable inculcation.’  (Well, it is Debrett.)

Consideration for others – that’s what makes it possible for us to get on with each other.  Good manners are the oil of communal life.  I saw many examples of this when over a long period I acted for about half a dozen members of the Establishment – with a big ‘E’.  They had very different views on matters in hand, that were reverberating in our public life, but one thing struck me about each of them.  Their manners were both impeccable and so seemingly natural – or, in Debrett’s term, innate.  You can forgive an awful lot in a person if they treat you and others with courtesy.

Here is an example.  I was coming along Collins Street, Melbourne in a tram with a client.  We were due to get off at different parts of the line.  But my client got off on my stop.  Why?  ‘Geoffrey.  One noticed that the rain has started.’  (Yes – he was old fashioned enough to say ‘one’.)  ‘I noticed that you didn’t have your brolly.  I do, and I can get back on a tram at the next stop.’  I beetled home that night in some dejection, wondering if I had done enough to teach my children good manners.

We are seeing courtesy subside all around us.  Technology and social media annihilate it.  Those people in the entertainment industry called sportspeople are above and beyond courtesy, and they get dirty if you question their right to claim that space.  There is hardly any courtesy left in politics – beside question time in our parliaments, a pigsty sounds toffy.

If courtesy is in truth the oil of communal life – and it is – then that life will seize up, as it is doing, when the oil is drained out.  Donald Trump is just the nadir of our decline.  He may just be the rudest person ever born.  He may also be the greatest bullshit-artist ever born.

Bullshit is a denial of logic.  Logic is the oil of our thinking and talking.  Logic therefore stands to our intellectual life in the same way that courtesy stands to our communal life.  Are the declines in courtesy and logic in some way linked?

Well, if you look at people like Nigel Farage in England, Pauline Hanson in Australia, and Donald Trump in America, you would certainly say yes.  They are all equally committed to the obliteration of truth and consideration for others.  Trump, in particular, has trouble putting a sentence together.  And we have arrived in the gutter at the confluence of our declines when the President of the United States fires Cabinet Ministers with a tweet.

Now the gutter overflows.  Our children and their children get to see women of a colourful past tell of their sexual liaisons with the U S President – and his efforts to buy their silence.  It is absurd to suggest that a man so exposed to blackmail could be entrusted with national secrets.

Well, we got used to unbridled sex at the White House with Messrs Kennedy and Clinton, but Donald Trump stands accused of sexual misconduct that was anything but agreed.  These accusers are respectable people.  They are believed – even by the Judas of the watery home team smile.  But these ladies – for that is what they are – are as old as decency itself.  What we now get is Stormy Daniels and a Playboy Bunny.  What are we supposed to say to our children?  From time to time, the world goes mad?

How is it that a once decent people – we can safely put greatness to one side – could fall so low so fast?  For an answer, you would have to seek out a very, very old German or Italian – someone born, say, in about 1925.

Donald Trump is guilty not just because he has no manners, but because he is frankly vicious.  But perhaps that is just two ways of saying the same thing.  And at least gorillas are free of bullshit.

Passing bull 144 – The inanity of red lines


King Lear is in many ways the Everest of our minds.  It is about a choleric old man who digs a hole for himself and his daughters, and then he keeps digging, until he goes mad.  As he descends into the despair of his madness, he says:

I will have such revenges on you both

That all the world shall—I will do such things—

What they are yet I know not, but they shall be

The terrors of the earth. You think I’ll weep?

No, I’ll not weep.


This wild ungrammatical rant sounds like someone we know, but, like so much in this play, when you watch the descent of this old man, you feel as if you are being cruel in yourself.  And there is something childlike about this dementia in the aged.  It reminds us of the story of the wolf and the three little pigs.


Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in.


These thoughts – or something like them – come to mind whenever I hear that dreadful phrase ‘red line’ – or its soul mate, ‘line in the sand’.  Barack Obama will I think regret until his dying day using the term ‘red line’ regarding chemical warfare in Syria.  Who will determine when the event happens, and more importantly, who will determine what the consequences should be?  The policy of President Obama toward the problem of Syria, and other problems in the region, was otherwise so sane.  The U S should not intervene unless it knows just when and how it will be able to get out.  The recent interventions by the West in Syria do not satisfy that simple criterion, and on that ground alone, I would not support them.


Donald Trump, who is as stupid as he is nasty, compounded the problem with a tweet that included a phrase that has even more notorious baggage in this region – ‘Mission Accomplished.’  God save us all.

Since we are speaking of inane language, it is not surprising that Donald Trump comes to mind immediately.  We are reminded of children in the shelter shed at school making up the rules of the game as they go; or of Australian cricketers drawing the line about sledging; or the board of Cricket Australia drawing the line about another inane phrase – ‘being held accountable.’

Well, at least Trump had the courtesy to count, very loudly, to one hundred before he said ‘Coming ready or not.’


Half of all gun owners say that ownership is essential to their identity.  Fear is a factor: nearly half of male gun-owners say that they have a loaded gun ‘easily accessible to them at all times at home’.  According to the Pew study, ‘There is a significant link between owning a gun for protection and perceptions of whether the world broadly speaking has become more dangerous.’

The New Yorker, 12 March, 2018.

Who would want to live in the United States, the land of fear?  Do gun owners have something in common with some Harley owners – is it all about their willies?  Is their world more dangerous because there are so many guns?


A tweet from Tony Abbott.  ‘More unsubstantiated bile from @vanOnselenP.  If my office was so hopeless why is my former deputy COS now director of the Liberal Party and why does my former COS rate more highly than PVO ever did?’

The Guardian Australia 7 April 2018

Does that remind you of anyone?  Apart from the obsession with TV and ratings, there is the suggestion that being a director of a political party in some way gives a person standing.

Passing Bull 143 – Addition

Apologies – I was so mesmerised by ‘Send in the clowns’ that I forgot the Bloopers.

‘Now just imagine the reaction here in Australia if a comparable number of farmers had been brutally murdered by squatters intent on driving them off their land.’  Tony Abbott on Mr Dutton and white South African farmers.

The Saturday Paper, March 24-30, 2018.

Some Australians may have a similar view about murders committed by squatters.


Laura Ingraham of Fox News had tweeted that David Hogg, who had survived the most recent school shooting, had been ‘Rejected By Four Colleges To Which He Applied and whines about it. (Dinged by UCLA with a 4.1 GPA…totally predictable given acceptance rates.)’

On Thursday, Ingraham tweeted an apology.

‘Any student should be proud of a 4.2 GPA,’ she wrote, ‘incl[uding] David Hogg. On reflection, in the spirit of Holy Week, I apologize for any upset or hurt my tweet caused him or any of the brave victims of Parkland.

‘For the record, I believe my show was the first to feature David immediately after that horrific shooting and even noted how ‘poised’ he was given the tragedy. As always, he’s welcome to return to the show anytime for a productive discussion.’

The Guardian, I April, 2018

Ms Ingraham may have attended the same Twitter school as the light of the life of Fox News.  In America it is par for the course to invoke Christ, or Holy Week, in the course of a crude political stunt.  She took a week off after this one.  Sky News is bad – but Fox News is a curse.